Ahoy there, gin lovers! Are you ready to set sail on a high-proof adventure? We’re charting a course to the lands of navy strength gin—a spirit that’s not for the faint-hearted.
When you see ‘navy strength’ on a bottle of gin, you know you’ve got the good stuff. But what is it? What’s it like? Which ones are good? And most importantly, why drink it?
With its origins dating back to the 18th Century, this robust liquor has gained a loyal following among gin connoisseurs and hospos, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to most.
So let’s have a closer look at the history, characteristics and serving suggestions of navy strength gin, and discover why it’s a must-try for any ‘gin-thusiast’.
What is navy strength gin?
Navy strength gin—in fact any spirit that has ‘navy strength’ on its label—is a high-ABV spirit. To be legally called gin, it has to be a minimum of 37.5%ABV (75% proof). You’ll usually find gin at 40% up to the mid-40s.
Navy strength—or ‘overproof’ spirits have to be at least 57%ABV (100% proof), and you can find it even stronger than that.
Why is it called navy strength gin?
There are a couple of theories about why it’s called navy strength and where the tradition started. Both are to do with the fact that at 57%ABV, gin will ignite.
Back in the 18th Century, regular sailors in the navy were given rum rations and the officers were given gin. That tradition only stopped in the middle of the 20th Century by the way.
One story goes that, because the rations were kept in the hold of the ship near the battery, if a barrel leaked and got into the gun powder, the powder would still ignite.
It’s a good yarn.
But more likely is that, back in the 1700s, they didn’t have instruments that could accurately measure alcohol content.
So when naval ships restocked, to be sure the spirits they bought weren’t watered down by unscrupulous traders, the quartermasters would test the ABV against a naked flame.
If it was ‘navy strength’, the gin would ignite, proving its alcohol level. If it had been tampered with, it wouldn’t.
This is probably where the word ‘proof’ comes from when we’re talking about alcohol strength.
What makes navy strength gin desirable? And what does it taste like?
Navy strength gin is a formidable spirit. But when it’s made well, that extra 17%ABV or so can do incredible things to the texture of the gin and the flavour intensity of the botanicals.
Obviously, there’s a risk to making a high-ABV spirit that it’ll just taste like paint-stripper. And that’s down to the skill of the distiller. The ones we’ve highlighted below are exceptionally smooth, to the point where you wouldn’t know they’re so much stronger than regular gin.
But apart from the power that you do get from navy strength gin—a kind of rich warmth and all-encompassing, tongue-coating flavour hit—you get to experience a lot of aromas and tastes that go unnoticed in lower strength gin.
Citrus, spice and pepper, woodiness and juniper all shine out in these OP gins.
The best thing about navy strength gin is its ability to stand up in longer drinks. In a G&T, when gin can sometimes disappear under the tonic, navy strength really holds its own. But not only because of its high ABV, but also because its flavours can be so much more accentuated.
Distillers will tell you to try it the same way you would a good scotch: neat with a drop or two of water to ‘open it up’. Or even with a single ice cube.
Navy strength is really fun in a martini, just be careful if you’re not used to it. You don’t want to be walking the plank after just one drink!
What are some of our favourite navy strength gins?
Not many big-name brands have a navy strength in their repertoire, so you have to look for more craft distilleries for an OP version.
It’s also important to note that good navy strength gin isn’t just the distillery’s regular gin that’s just stronger; you only want the ones that have been made from a recipe just for that specific gin.
7 Superb Navy Strength Gins
- Anther Distillery’s Goddess Strength Gin – 58%ABV
- Naught Distillery’s Overproof Gin – 57.4%ABV
- Karu Distillery’s Lightning Gin – 57.5%ABV
- Ester Distillery’s Strong Gin – 57%ABV
- Wolf Lane Distillery’s Navy Strength Gin – 58%ABV
- Hold Fast Distillery’s Man O’ War Gin – 58%ABV
- Eumundi Distillery’s Folktale Navy Strength Gin – 57.1%ABV
You can also buy most of these and many more from the amazing Nip of Courage – a small business that only stocks Australian craft spirits and nothing else. They’re also the wholesaler to many bars and bottle shops around the country, so this is place to get your gin goodies!